Turning a political lemon into Godly lemonade
By R. Joaquin Willis, D. Min.
Because of the changes made by the Florida Legislature, we now have 7 fewer days for early voting than we did in 2008. In the book of Genesis (50:19) Joseph told his fearful brothers, who had sold him into slavery, but subsequently discovered Joseph was still alive, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
But despite the change in early voting laws, I’m asking my congregation at The Church of the Open Door, UCC to make the most of this political “lemon” we’ve been given, and make every vote count. Therefore, we are holding voter education workshops after church services to review the ballot, and to help our elders (who can’t stand in long lines) to electronically order absentee ballots.
This change by state lawmakers comes at a curious time. We must not be afraid of this change, because the legislators are not God! Indeed what they meant for harm, God meant for Good. Black voters turned out in large numbers in Florida and around the country in the 2008 Presidential election. And it was Church congregations who led the way in making sure our church members voted, during the early voting period, or on Election Day, as well as, by absentee ballots.
Now we’re faced with new rules which have made it tougher for groups to register voters and have reduced the number of Sundays during the early voting period. Sundays were the key to victory in 2008, the days when we went to polling places in large numbers. Weekend voting is most beneficial for us because many in our communities work weekdays and the polls are closed after their work day ends.
These changes, in my opinion, were designed to suppress our turn out. Even the former Florida Republican Party Chairman, Jim Greer, agreed and was quoted in the Huffington Post saying, “I was upset because the political consultants and staff were talking about voter suppression and keeping blacks from voting.” These attacks on voting rights are the worst many of us have seen since the struggle in the 50’s for the passage of the voting rights act. Florida has entered a new era of Jim Crow. I for one do not believe this is a coincidence.
We won’t be turned around this time; so early 7 AM on the first day, Saturday, October 27th, we will start making our Godly “Lemonade” under the leadership of Bishop Victor Curry and a host of us pastors, at the Stephen P. Clarke Center. We’re asking all church folks to join us – church members, Deacons, Deaconesses, Trustees, Usher boards, Choir members – to meet us at the polls during all Early Voting events and efforts. You see, it is crucial now more than at any time in recent memory that black people in Florida and the rest of the United States take a stand. The right to vote is a cherished privilege that many bled and died for, and no one, not even state government, can take it away from us.
Be that as it may, we will not be deterred. Civil rights heroes and heroines such as Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rev. Ralph Abernathy and Fannie Lou Hamer and those four little girls who died in the Birmingham bombing all withstood far worse in the fight for equal rights and our privilege to vote. I’m reminded that as they marched and protested, they were comforted by freedom songs as they withstood biting dogs and water hoses and angry stares and racial epithets. We should march with Pastor Carl Johnson at 1PM on Sunday, October 28th, singing some of these songs as we March Souls to the Polls on that day:
“Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around, Turn me around, turn me around:
Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around.
I’m gonna keep on a-walkin’, keep on a-talkin,’ Marchin’ up to freedom land.”
The Rev. Dr. R. Joaquin Willis is pastor of the Church of the Open Door at in Miami’s Liberty City community. He may be reached at (305) 759-0373 or email@example.com